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Availability For Work Test

Volume 113: debated on Wednesday 1 April 1987

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asked the Paymaster General what is the latest estimated number of people who have ceased receiving benefits following the introduction of the availability for work test.

Claimants to unemployment benefits have always been disallowed benefit by independent statutory adjudicating authorities in accordance with long-standing legal rules adopted by successive Governments, when they are not available for work.If the hon. Member is asking how many claims have been disallowed for this reason since we introduced modified procedures to enforce the existing rules, the answer, as at 27 February 1987, was 8,866 claimants nationally, which is 1·1 per cent. of those at the new claims stage.

asked the Paymaster General how many people in the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham have had their unemployment benefit suspended because of the new availability for work test; and what percentage of the unemployment register in that borough they represent.

Under long-standing legal rules adopted by successive Governments it has always been the practice that wherever a doubt arises as to whether a benefit claimant is available for work, payments are suspended until the independent statutory adjudicating authorities decide entitlement.If the hon. Member is asking how many claims in the London borough of Hammersmith have been suspended in this way since we introduced improved procedures to apply to existing rules, the answer, as at 27 February 1987, is 388 people. This represents 2·6 per cent. of those who have claimed at these offices since the modifications were introduced.

asked the Paymaster General what action has been taken by local unemployment benefit officers to encourage the taking up of alternative benefits, should people prove to be ineligible for unemployment benefit as a result of an availability for work test.

Our improvements in the arrangements for establishing the availability for work of claimants have made it easier for staff in unemployment benefit offices to identify claimants who may be eligible for an alternative social security benefit. We draw the attention of claimants to the existence of such benefits in the explanatory leaflet they each receive and by the posters in benefit offices. Our benefit office staff have been given guidance about those claimants who may be eligible.In addition my Department's new claimant advisers work closely with our local staff and play an important role in advising claimants about all social security benefits, including those which do not require the claimant to be available for work. Where necessary our claimant advisers will help claimants in making their applications.

asked the Paymaster General if he will detail the cost of conducting the availability for work test experiment on the over 50s age group of unemployed; and if he will make a statement on the outcome of the tests and plans for extending them nationwide.

[pursuant to his reply, 30 March 1987, c. 356]: The cost of conducting the improved availability for work test experiment relating to unemployed claimants aged over 50 who sign-on only once a quarter was approximately £3,000.The results of the experiment were inconclusive and we have no present plans to extend the procedure.